Are you finding it hard to purchase a new laptop?
Are you confused about what to look for in laptops?
Are you getting overwhelmed by this highly competitive laptop space?
If the answers to all these questions are in the affirmative, you seriously need to read through this in-depth laptop buying guide.
A short hiatus before you reach out for more!
Did you know that the global laptop landscape is expected to grow at a CAGR of 4 percent each year from now till 2027, before equating to a size of $181.5 billion?
If these stats do not inspire confidence, we don’t know what would. However, the growth in laptop proliferation and the existing market figures has been amplified by the work-from-home culture. Moreover, with the post-pandemic era hinting towards holistic cloud adoption and migration, 2021 might just be the best year for the laptop OEMs.
However, despite the slew of options, buying a new laptop will still be difficult if you aren’t sure where to look and what to look for.
That said, we shall segregate laptop selections based on six separate segments, with each being diversified into individual sections and subsections.
What's in this article
- 1 What to look for in a Laptop: Selecting according to the Operating System
- 2 Laptop Choices: Based on Professional, Academic, and Personal Requirements
- 3 Types of Laptops: Based on the Form-Factor
- 4 Laptop Selections based on Budget
- 5 Hardware Choices to be Mindful of
- 6 Best Time to Buy Laptops
- 7 New Technologies to Look for in 2021
- 8 The Finishing Line
What to look for in a Laptop: Selecting according to the Operating System
It is a common tendency for individuals to segregate laptop selections based on the operating system. While we casually segregate gadgets as Chromebooks, laptops, MacBooks, even android-powered detachables, there is a separate clientele for each type of machine.
Regardless of the Windows variants existing in the market, we shall only talk about the most recent version of the operating system i.e. the Windows 10. Selecting a Windows 10-powered machine is pretty common as you can run almost every important software, game, and application on the compatible machine.
Besides, the Adobe Creative Cloud, certain video editing applications, and even almost every AAA title runs perfectly on Windows-powered machines, provided the Windows notebook has enough firepower to run the same. Not just that, Windows 10 OS is the only operating system that can support a touch screen mechanism, perfectly.
Coming to the world of touch screens, even Chrome OS has a special set of devices, as per the utility quotient. Better termed as Chromebooks, you can get a Chrome OS-powered laptop if you are more inclined towards online tasks and cloud-centric activities.
Nevertheless, Chromebooks cannot be used as a typical Windows laptop or a traditional computer. However, if you search well, you can get one with a touch screen display, longish battery life, and even a 360-degree flip-and-fold chassis.
While the Chrome OS isn’t as feature-packed as Windows 10, it still has enough meat to help you manage online tasks and drive-based security detailing with ease.
The macOS is easily the most interactive user platform. However, for first-time users, Catalina or the Big Sur- the latest macOS platforms, present a relatively steeper learning curve. Then again, MacBooks have a separate clientele of their own as they come with several high-end applications and are even known for the software-hardware configuration.
However, we shall be again discussing MacBooks in subsequent sections as there are more to the likes of MacBook Air and MacBook Pro than just the operating system.
While it is pretty difficult to get laptops that feature vanilla Linux OS or Ubuntu straight out of the box, you can still search and identify the likes of Dell Latitude, Coconics Enabler, and more.
However, most Ubuntu-powered laptops offer dual boot support and even allow you to install Windows OS, if and when required. Then again, if you are more into simulation and circuitry, an Ubuntu-powered gadget is a relevant yet underrated choice.
While a majority of the latest Chromebooks support Android-based applications via play store compatibility, you can always consider purchasing ultraportable, android tablets with detachable keyboards at the helm.
Although these aren’t the most common choices, the ones from Xiaomi and other tablet-making companies can be quite handy for travel and leisure.
Laptop Choices: Based on Professional, Academic, and Personal Requirements
Now that we have already talked about laptop OS and the relevant selections, it is necessary to take much better calls by ascertaining individual requirements. In the subsequent sections, we shall enlist notebooks based on diverse professional, academic, and personal commitments.
Better termed as multi-purpose laptops, these machines are good at handling basic streaming, academic tasks, mid-range accounting processes, copywriting responsibilities, and even basic to mid-range editing. The best thing about generic laptops is that they aren’t just by budget.
It is obvious that a major chunk of generic laptops belongs to the budget segment, you can even get them for a premium price tag, provided gaming isn’t one of your preferences and there is no need for a high-end graphics card. Generic laptops flaunt AMD Ryzen or even Intel Core processors based on the budget and preferred system configurations.
However, if you select a reasonably priced generic notebook, you can use the laptop even for video editing, online gaming, or programming. At present, a majority of generic laptops are enviously slim and feature power-efficient processors to minimize throttling.
As the name would suggest, gaming laptops always have game-playing as a top priority. Besides, typical gaming laptops also need to feature standard GPUs, depending on the price points. Mid-range gaming stations feature GTX 1050, GTX 1650, or other relevant graphic co-processors for handling intricate moderately demanding AAA titles.
However, premium and high-end gaming notebooks with Intel Core i7 processors and RTX 20-series GPUs can also be purchased, if you are a gaming professional. Moreover, the existing laptop arena also allows you to mix and match the internal components as per your individual preferences.
For instance, if you want a laptop with Ray tracing support for certain games like Control and Battlefield V; the costly ones with NVIDIA GeForce RTX 20-series GPUs are to be considered. However, mid-range models with GTX 1660 and GTX 1660Ti GPUs are also adequate if RTRT support isn’t one of your top priorities.
That said, a larger screen with an excellent refresh rate to minimize screen tearing is also necessary to look for in a gaming laptop. Moreover, if you aren’t restricted by budget, look for options supporting G-SYNC and Optimus technologies.
Quite a few gaming notebooks also come with AMD processors but you need to account for the thermal hardware. Regardless of the model you purchase, for gaming notebooks, it is also necessary to purchase a model with an excellent anti-ghosting keyboard, a sizable chunk of RAM, and decent storage support, either as a Windows compatible SSD or hard drive.
While some people prefer using gaming notebooks for their creative indulgences like graphics, photo, and even video editing, it is always good to have specific gadgets for the job. Besides, gaming notebooks are usually heavier considering the amassing thermal hardware but you can get creative laptops for a far lesser heft, provided you know where to look for them.
High-end creative laptops usually flaunt Intel core processors, preferably the G-series or even the H-series. While the G-series chipsets are graphics optimized and power-efficient, the H-series units like the Intel Core i7-9750H, are more focused on performances and nature of edits.
A good GPU is also required but for creative laptops you can always go for the Max-Q variants, specifically to minimize the heft and the heat emanation. A reliable chipset with a low-power GPU and a decent chunk of RAM, preferably 8GB or more, are vital to a creative notebook.
However, the display for creative notebooks is also an essential component.
While touch screen displays might be persisted with, your focus should always be on getting 72 percent NTSC or 100 percent sRGB color gamut. Besides, if the budget permits, opt for models with Thunderbolt 3 ports, specifically to connect external workflows and rigs for a large-scale project.
If you want laptops for music mixing, video editing, and drawing, you can always make sure to purchase machines with faster solid-state drives and speedy RAM units. Therefore, even creative notebooks and the power within depends on the budget you are willing to spend and also the specific professional needs.
Professional Laptops and Workstations
As a CAD, CAM, or BIM professional, you can always rely on resource-heavy professional notebooks. These gadgets often house 10th gen i7 processors or selective AMD R7 mobile CPUs for handling the likes of 3D modeling, rendering, and simulations. Besides, a high-end GPU is often necessary to initiate photorealistic rendering and other relevant activities.
While you can always purchase laptops with consumer-grade GPUs like RTX 2070, RTX 2080, or even the high-end GTX 16-series modules, professional laptops and even workstations like the HP ZBook work best with the Quadro-series GPUs, integrated within.
In addition to workstation-grade GPUs, these laptops often include TB 3 ports, excellent displays, and nifty professional resources like the fingerprint scanner, webcam, and more.
Ultrafast RAM modules, especially the dual-channel and dual-socketed ones are also preferred by professionals. This way it becomes easier to use the same for almost every professional task, including architectural mapping, bookkeeping, streaming, and more.
Laptops for entrepreneurs are mostly light, portable, and even come with touchscreens. Besides, they aren’t overpowered by complex hardware and processing components.
Mostly, you would find Intel Core U-series processors in diverse business notebooks. Discrete graphics support isn’t common unless you want to keep some juice intact for gaming on the move.
As far as the basic set of features associated with a business laptop are concerned, you can expect extended battery life, efficient webcam, full-size keyboard, smaller displays, Windows operating platform, TPM security chip for certain MacBooks, and fingerprint scanner for adding an extra line of protection.
As a student, shopping for a laptop shouldn’t be that hard if you know the specs to look for. In case academic laptops are your preference, make sure to go for models with larger storage space, a sizable chunk of RAM for multi-tab browsing, and i5,i7 processors.
While some students make the mistake of opting for budget laptops with mediocre chipsets, we feel the Core i5 CPU is the bare minimum requirement for an academic laptop. If you are a computer science student, then Microsoft Surface Pro 7 can do most of the programming tasks.
Besides, it is important to get a laptop with a decent keyboard and excellent key travel followed by a reliable display. Battery life is also important to consider if you are a globetrotting student.
While most people ignore this segment entirely, copywriters do have specific computing requirements and, therefore, also have curated laptop choice. Firstly, the lifted hinge, or rather the ErgoLift design is one of the major toolkits for the writers.
Needless to say, the ErgoLift design offers an optimal typing experience and even keeps the keypad region cooler than usual. We have done a roundup article of best laptops for writers.
Besides, copywriter-friendly notebooks also showcase a full-sized keyboard with excellent key travel, something in the ballpark of 1.4mm to avoid the alphabet soup while creating content. Not just that these gadgets also boast long battery life, allowing content creators to post actively, even when on the move.
Types of Laptops: Based on the Form-Factor
While some individuals purchase laptops based on the specific personal and professional tasks as mentioned above, several informed decisions are also taken based on the form factor of the machine. The segregations are as follows:
There is no doubt that clamshell laptops are the most common computing resources, preferred by most gamers, workstation seekers, professionals, and even individuals looking for desktop replacements.
Clamshells can be stacked with high-end processors, discrete graphics units, and even touchscreen properties for models like the LG Gram 14.
Moreover, the price segment for clamshell notebooks varies according to your budget. This means even if you want to get typical budget laptops or high-end premium machines, there is always a clamshell model for you to rely on. Once you select the clamshell, you can take a lot at the profession-centric selections and take a call, accordingly.
Besides, if you want to purchase the best-in-class clamshell notebooks, the Apple MacBook Pro and Apple MacBook Air are the most appropriate variants.
2-in-1 Laptops or Convertibles
Individuals who are always on the move prefer convertibles or 2-in-1 laptops, considering the mobility and portability on offer. However, these 2-in-1 notebooks are usually priced higher than a clamshell featuring similar specifications. While multi-mode operability and touchscreen support are expected, convertibles are also known for their excellent battery life and potent speakers.
However, you can also invest in high-end convertibles like the HP Spectre x360, if you want a 2-in-1 for gaming or professional tasks.
Unlike convertibles, detachable laptops like the Surface Pro or Surface Book series from Microsoft are loaded with possibilities and better structural elements. The best thing about these gadgets is that you can use them as standalone tablets or a full-fledged computer upon connecting the keyboard via the Connect port.
Detachables are pretty rare entities and at present Microsoft is the only company to offer the widest possible collection of these machines.
An ultrabook is more like a slim, ultraportable clamshell notebook, best known for the excellent battery life, ultrafast SSDs, low-power Intel processors, and durable yet aesthetic chassis. A majority of business laptops have lately been turned into ultrabooks by leading OEMs, thereby making them more mobile and portable.
In case you are looking for added validation, consider looking at the Dell XPS 13 for validation. That said, they aren’t exactly known for the typing experiences.
Lately, there has been an influx of dual-screen laptops, especially from Asus. As innovative as they are, these dual-screen machines are priced at a premium. Besides, you can expect UHD or 4K primary displays clubbed with enhanced touchpads, better termed as Screenpad 2.0 or Screenpad Plus on select devices.
However, Asus ZenBook Pro or ZenBook Pro Duo, i.e. the dual-screen units, is best leveraged by professional editors and graphic designers. Then again, these cannot be purchased at a budget price point and the model with two 4K panels even exceed the $2000 price point.
Laptop Selections based on Budget
Now that we have covered almost every important factor pertaining to laptop usage, it is necessary to enlist the budget-centric segments and tabulate expectations, accordingly.
Budget Notebooks (Sub-$500)
Every laptop buying guide categorizes entry-level laptops as typical budget entities with a pretty underwhelming specs sheet.
However, if you choose carefully, you can still get access to gadgets with Intel core i3, core i5, or even comparable AMD processors. While you cannot expect discrete graphics support, a solid Windows laptop with a hard drive is not out of bounds.
Also read: 10 best laptops under $500 in 2021.
For the given price point, you might also end up getting a gadget featuring the Chrome OS. That said, if you plan on getting the most out of the price point, a decent convertible isn’t out of the question.
Laptops enlisted within this segment are better termed as mainstream gadgets. If you are willing to pay the mentioned price, you can very well get your hands on a computer with a minimum of Core i5 CPU and even a low-power Core i7 unit. Besides, SSDs are commonly followed by close to 12GB RAM.
Other expected specs include B&O speakers, a slimmer form factor, and even a mid-range GPU. Most importantly you would want to consider these laptops for business, academic, and professional needs. If you are interested to purchase one, you can check our list of best laptops under $1000.
At this price point, you can easily get access to professionally inclined notebooks with emphasis on high-end GTX GPUs, 16GB RAM, compatibility as an excellent storage device, and even the 10th gen i7 processors. Not just that, you can get a pretty good gaming laptop under $1500, precisely with fantastic cooling hardware to rely on.
If you are lucky enough and can get hold of the perfect deal during the best buying seasons, this segment also allows you to pick 4K notebooks or gadgets with one or even two Thunderbolt 3 ports.
Premium ($1500 onwards)
Needless to say, these laptops supersede expectations and are considered to be at the top of the pecking order. Therefore, if you are willing to pay this much for a latest laptop, you can get your hands on the latest Apple MacBook Pro, high-end gaming notebooks with RTX 20-series GPUs, 10th gen octa-core chipsets, and almost anything you wish for.
However, if you scale beyond the 2000-dollar price point, it is still possible to get the best Apple-branded devices or workstation-grade notebooks with RAID 0 SSD modules, 32GB RAM units, and other high-end resources. Moreover, for the given price segment, you can also get access to the best laptop display, as per preferences.
Hardware Choices to be Mindful of
On paper, buying a laptop could be an effortless task; however, in reality, it is not that easy because the question of choosing the right Laptop doesn't have any obvious answers.
Keeping the factor, as mentioned above aside, let us discuss the six other factors which you should consider while purchasing a laptop irrespective of whatever reason you have for buying that device.
Under the skin of a Laptop is the hardware that keeps it running. One has to ascertain what hardware has been used, which would help with the performance of the Laptop eventually. The Processor happens to be the brain of the Laptop.
It guides your device to perform better. So, the more robust the processor, the better the performance and you can also multitask the way you want to. Majority of the laptops are guided by Intel or AMD processors. Both are good; however, Intel is more popular when it comes to CPU choice.
The Core i generation of processors are superior in performance, and you can avail the latest version depending on your purpose of computing. Remember, the more advanced processors also come with a matching price tag.
Even a few days back, 4GB of RAM was more than sufficient for your laptop system. Today you are spoilt with choices. 8GB of RAM has become essential. If you are a high end user or a gamer, you can choose from 16GB and 32GB of RAM respectively for the best experience.
More RAM allows you to run any number of applications simultaneously and also for more data to be accessible at any given time. So if you are editing a photo or a video content, the process becomes lag-free. The latest generation of RAM is DDR4.
Also known as the Hard Disk Drive (HDD) is basically about keeping all your files, images, videos in one place. More disk space would mean more storage facility. Majority of laptops today come with a minimum of 320GB of space. However, based on your requirement you can go for 500GB of space or more.
In Fact, if your budget permits and you have a need for massive space in your Laptop, even 1TB of space can be bought.
Many users sought speed on their Laptop. If you can pay a better price, then go for a laptop with SSD (Solid State Drive) rather than a HDD. SSD doesn't offer you much space, but you can always get yourself an external hard disk for that extra storage space.
Graphics processor configuration is another crucial point to be considered while purchasing your Laptop. The integrated graphics chip is usually fine if you are a casual laptop user with no high-end activity on your device.
However, if you are a game pro or a high-end video editor, you will need to have a powerful Graphics Card. Graphic Processors from Nvidia or AMD are the ones worth considering.
Having said that, in today's time, a powerful GPU is important for all users since we all look for HD and Full HD displays. With OTT platforms being the flavour of the time, it has become all the more necessary.
Ports and Connectivity:
Connectivity is an essential aspect while choosing the right Laptop. Most devices today come with USB 3.0 ports and HDMI out for videos. However, many laptops use USB Type -C or Thunderbolt 3 ports that are Type C compatible. Check for this feature because USB Type-C can be used to connect to all docks and chargers.
If you are to use your Laptop on the go, always consider buying a device with 4GLTE support. Also if you want to have your Laptop with great connectivity lookout for Wi-Fi 6 support. Finally, check for the Bluetooth functionality in the device you wish to buy.
The life of the battery, as stated by the manufacturer, is never correct in real-time usage. Always look for the rating of the battery in mAh or Wh. The larger the figures, the longer your battery will last.
Read the manuals carefully to know more about the battery present in the Laptop. Also, look for a fast charging option which now is an additional feature in the laptops as well.
When it comes to selecting the perfect laptop for writers, you need to be concerned about the keyboard, spacing between the keys, key travel, and also the actuation. Gamers, however, need to look for anti-ghosting support and even WASD compatibility, when selecting a laptop.
Audio and Other Specs:
As an audiophile, you might want to select a notebook that is heavy on the acoustic setup. Some of the more probable options include B&O speakers, Nahimic speakers with a 3D acoustic ambiance, Dolby Audio enhancement, Harman Kardon speakers, and basic stereo speakers.
Besides, you can also opt for laptops with a precision glass touchpad, fingerprint sensor, excellent webcam, and serviceable microphones. However, these specifications can be selected and accounted for, based on personal requirements.
It doesn't end here.
Apart from the six points mentioned above, you should also keep in mind a few other track notes. Essentially the brand of the Laptop that you have selected. Does it come with a warranty? Also, check for the display specifications like if it runs on IPS panels or not, and if the display surface is glossy or matte coated. Check the difference between Ubuntu and windows OS.
Operating systems should also be a point of consideration. Which OS do you prefer working on? Windows, macOS or Chrome OS? Windows OS usage is the most widespread however, when it comes to security, macOS is very secure.
Chrome OS or Chromebook can also be considered if your usability is limited. However, Windows powered clamshell models are the most sought after options in the existing space
Best Time to Buy Laptops
Now that you are aware of the laptop selections, preferences, expectations as per the budget, it is important to zero in on the perfect time to purchase the preferred gadget. This way, it becomes easier to get hold of the best possible deals.
Announced in November, each year, Cyber Monday is all about getting exceptional deals on your preferred laptops. While no discounts are promised by suppliers and OEMs, you do get additional accessories on almost every purchase.
Black Friday Sale
Without a doubt, this is the best time to buy electronic gadgets, especially if a new computer is on your wishlist. Starting from a basic notebook with a Core i3 processor, Core i5 or a premium machine with an 11the gen processor, the black Friday sale has almost everything for a laptop seeker.
As per reports published by Future US Inc., a majority of laptops sold during the Black Friday sales, have their list price slashed by almost 20 percent at times.
In addition to these lucrative periods, you can also consider getting a new device a few months after the big release.
New Technologies to Look for in 2021
While we already discussed a fair bit about the probable laptop selections, there are quite a few technologies that every consumer needs to be mindful of before making the purchase in 2021. These include:
1. 11th gen processor from Intel
At present, the G-series, 11th gen lineup of i7 processors have been making their presence felt in the slimmer machines. Led by an excellent turbo clock speed of up to 4.7GHz and the Intel Iris Xe graphics module, the 11th gen lineup is expected to change the perception of consumers towards integrated graphics cards.
2. M1 Chipset for MacBooks
Apple has started rolling out the new MacBook Air with the proprietary M1 chipset that is specifically optimized for machine learning and neural processing.
Besides, the integrated GPU associated with the M1 processor is at par with some of the entry-level dedicated graphics cards. We might see more MacBooks including this chipset to accentuate the overall potential of the gadget.
3. RTX 30-series GPUs
Although the RTX 30-series GPUs for a computer or rather a PC-centric layout have already been launched, we might just see OEMs in 2021 bring these to the laptop domain.
In addition to these technologies, you can also expect the newest Intel Tiger Lake processors to take form followed by the release of the ultra-powerful Ryzen 5000 Cezanne CPU from AMD.
The Finishing Line
Finally, as I have said earlier when you think of purchasing a Laptop, you are spoiled with choices. It is always prudent to understand your requirement, your budget and decide on the best product features under the given parameters.
One cannot pinpoint the best laptop guide but can for sure show the best possible guidelines which can help you determine your choice of a Laptop.
Overall, this laptop buying guide tries to be as detailed as possible with the laptop recommendations and selections, without being biased towards a particular brand. However, if you still have queries, you can always pitch them forth and our team will try to make the best recommendations sans biases.